Over the summer I succumbed to an irresistable offer to take out a year's subscription to National Geographic for £15 a year. Too good to resist.
In the September edition there was an article about Madagascar. The reporter decided to track down those involved in the illegal rosewood trade. It seems that many are deserting traditional occupations to go in search of a fortune harvesting and selling rosewood.
As is usually the case, the trade is dominated by gangs and corruption. Even so, those who want to be involved go to enormous lengths to get even the chance to be a part of what is happening. The report described a thirteen hour journey down dirt roads and through forests, a journey to the heart of the wilderness. And what awaited those who made it was a life of hard work and danger.
It's amazing what people will do when driven by need or even the desire to get rich.
These kinds of stories almost always challenge me. It's so easy for us in the relative comfort of the West to shake our heads in disapproval of those who risk life and limb to do something illegal and something that is ecologically bad for Madagascar and the world.
However, I find that it challenges my passion and commitment to Christ.
To what lengths am I prepared to go to further the cause of Christ? What risks am I willing to take for Him? Does it match the illegal loggers of Madagascar? Does it, for that matter, match the business guys who'll work long hours and make huge sacrifices for the sake of filthy lucre?
It might sound as though I have written this post from a spiritual Tardis that has taken me back into the church culture of 1950's Britain. Let me put your mind at rest, I am firmly in 2010.
Unfortunately, we find ourselves in an era in which the kind of commitment I'm talking about can very quickly be written off as "works", "legalism" or "duty". It might be that we have discovered all the rights and privileges of being spiritual sons and daughters without understanding the responsibilities. There was a time that having a "servant heart" was considered crucial to authentic Christianity. I'm not sure that that is still the case in contemporary Christian culture.
I had a dream recently. I was dreaming that I was preparing a sermon on Timothy, Paul's spiritual son and fellow-worker. I only got two points of it before I woke up. I kept trying to recall the third point - but it just wasn't there. The two points were: (i) Timothy's Call; (ii)Timothy's Commitment. The first point was straightforward; God called Timothy to serve Him.
Point two was more surprising. It was from Acts 16.2-3 "The brothers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of [Timothy]. 3Paul wanted to take him along on the journey, so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek."
For the sake of church unity and cross-cultural evangelism, Timothy submitted himself to circumcision. That was the price of his calling. It wasn't something he had to do. It wasn't necessary for salvation. It was the price of joining Paul's team. Of course, there were issues involved that were due to the culture of that day. That's the point. That was the level of commitment that was needed to spread the gospel at that time.
Relax. I'm not suggesting it's time to get the knives out! However, it does challenge our thinking about the kind of commitment that preaching the gospel effectively entails. I think I'd opt for a few long journeys down dirt tracks and forests myself!